Hawaii's troubled health insurance exchange is looking for a new executive director after Coral Andrews, who currently holds the job, announced her resignation Friday morning. Andrews told KITV4 her decision to step down as the head of the Hawaii Health Connector is purely personal, and had nothing to do with criticism of the non-profit corporation.
"I am not a contracted employee, I serve at will," said Andrews, 52. "I chose to be in this position (and) it's solely my decision (to resign). As a leader, I made an assessment that I had focused on building the organization."
Sen. Josh Green, who chairs the Health Committee, commended Andrews for getting the Health Connector off the ground, but criticized the timing of her resignation.
"I'm disappointed that she stepped down at this point, because we needed someone there who's absolutely on top of all the challenges they have," said Green.
The Health Connector has provided critics of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act ample ammunition. The Connector's Oct. 1 launch was delayed by two weeks because of lingering problems with its website, HawaiiHealthConnector.com. Meanwhile, enrollment has been less than robust, with only 340 enrollees as of Nov. 21.
However, Andrews says much of the criticism is based on politics. She notes that when Massachusetts launched its health care exchange in 2006 under former Gov. Mitt Romney, only 123 people signed up in the first 30 days.
"We actually have higher enrollments than the Massachusetts Health Connector did in their first month," said Andrews.
Tom Matsuda, the state's Affordable Care Act implementation manager, was named the Health Connector's interim executive director by the 15-member board. Matsuda said his goal is to build on the progress made by Andrews, but stated emphatically that he would only serve temporarily.
"It's very important to maintain the stability of the organization so that we can continue to enroll people, and I'm coming in with a lot of knowledge because I've been working so closely with the Connector," said Matsuda. "I told the board when I accepted their request that I was only interested for the interim, not for the permanent."
Gov. Neil Abercrombie expressed confidence in Matsuda's interim leadership during a press conference to announce more aid for victims of the Philippines typhoon.
"It will make our cooperation and collaboration even more fruitful, and we expect to be able to move forward on the basis of the foundation that Coral and her team has established to this point," said Abercrombie.
The Health Connector has received $205 million in federal grants to fund the establishment of the exchange, the creation of its website and operations through 2014. Andrews said that as of Sept. 30, the Connector had spent 22 percent of its grant funds. She urged island residents to share their success stories about the exchange.
"We don't want the conversation to be controlled by the politics of those that want tell a very different story," said Andrews. "We have a responsibility to care for each other, and so I would say get on board the bus."
The Health Connector must enroll at least 100,000 people by the end of 2014 on its road to self-sufficiency, which is mandated by law. Green said lawmakers will be watching closely as the Jan. 1, 2015, deadline approaches.
"If at the end of the day there's not a return on investment, we won't subsidize the exchange," said Green. "The exchange would go away if we don't see a good return on investment. That's why it has to succeed this year, otherwise we're going to revisit it."
Green said whoever succeeds Matsuda as the Health Connector's next executive director should be a seasoned executive.
"I want someone that's quite tough, that can come out and make demands, and if the taxpayers aren't getting their money's worth, we get our money back," said Green.
Andrews, a registered nurse and former U.S. Navy captain, said she would continue to fill her role as a regent for the American College of Healthcare Executives, and is writing a chapter about policy and politics for a book on nursing.
"I'm really looking forward to getting some sleep," she said.